The seaweed Fucus serratus is hypothesized to have evolved in the North Atlantic and present populations are thought to reflect recolonization from a southern refugium since the last glacial maximum 18 000–20 000 years bp. We examined genetic structure across several spatial scales by analysing seven microsatellite loci in populations collected from 21 localities throughout the species’ range. Spatial auto-correlation analysis of seven microsatellite loci revealed no evidence for spatial clustering of alleles on a scale of 100 m despite limited gamete dispersal in F. serratus of ≈ 2 m from parental individuals. Pairwise θ analysis suggested that the minimal panmictic unit for F. serratus was between 0.5 and 2 km. Isolation by distance was significant along some contiguous coastlines. Population differentiation was strong within the Skagerrak–Kattegat–Baltic Seas (SKB) (global θ= 0.17) despite a short history of ≈ 7500 years. A neighbour-joining tree based on Reynold's distances computed from the microsatellite data revealed a central assemblage of populations on the Brittany Peninsula surrounded by four well-supported clusters consisting of the SKB, the North Sea (Ireland, Helgoland), and two populations from the northern Spanish coast. Samples from Iceland and Nova Scotia were most closely aligned with northwest Sweden and Brittany, respectively. When sample sizes were standardized (N = 41), allelic diversity was twofold higher for Brittany populations than for populations to the north and threefold higher than southern populations. The Brittany region may be a refugium or a recolonized area, whereas the Spanish populations most likely reflect present-day edge populations that have undergone repeated bottlenecks as a consequence of thermally induced cycles of recolonization and extinction.